Citizens Advice signed gagging clause in return for share of £51m from DWP

Two charities that will receive £51 million in government funding to provide advice and support to claimants of universal credit (UC) signed gagging clauses that prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions “unfairly” into “disrepute”.

Both Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) signed grant agreements with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – worth a total of £51 million – that include the same clause.

By signing the documents, it means they cannot take “any actions which unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.

It comes a year after Disability News Service revealed how several disability charities had signed contracts under the government’s Work and Health Programme that included clauses promising not to bring DWP into disrepute.

Copies of the agreements signed last year by CA and CAS have been obtained from DWP by social welfare activist Frank Zola using the Freedom of Information Act.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the grant “does little more than help some people claim universal credit and not address its inherent flaws, it just helps impose UC misery on its service users, through this £51,000,000 bribe.

“Citizens Advice provides help to large numbers of those punished by universal credit, such as disabled people and families who have ended up losing thousands of pounds by claiming UC, vast rises in debt, rent arrears, evictions, survival crime, five week delays in first payments and the horror of its inbuilt benefit sanctions and excessive conditionality.

“Against this background, does Citizens Advice campaign and advocate for universal credit to be stopped and abolished?

“No, it decides to act as a mere duplicitous adjunct of the DWP and even agrees to a grant gagging clause that prevents them from being critical of the DWP.”

He questioned why CA had kept its negotiations over the grant secret, rather than engaging with activists and claimant-led organisations, and the advice and guidance sector, on the best ways to support UC claimants and challenge the “iniquity” of UC.

He added: “This Citizens Advice grant damages trust in advice and guidance and reinforces the belief that, like charity and third sector collusion and contracts with the DWP Health and Work Programme, it is now part of a shadow state with commercial interests.”

Dr Jay Watts, an activist who raised concerns about the grant when it was announced at last October’s Tory party conference, said: “First of all, I need to make it clear that I think it is important people feel they can still approach Citizens Advice Bureaux which operate independently of head office and provide a vital service in desperate times.

“Having said that, many people will feel that CA has made a pact with the devil in accepting money from the government within the context of a contractual arrangement that limits their capacity to speak out against the policies which produce much of the despair they are tasked to help with.

“It is simply bad psychology to argue that dissent on government policies which cause such human rights violations won’t be muted at best by the inherent and often unconscious desire not to bite the hand that feeds.”

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, another who raised concerns last October, said: “This gagging clause will cause utter dismay to people, and to those CA staff who see their executive leadership betraying their very ethos.

“At a time when the DWP is engaged in massive and ongoing human rights abuse, for the supposed Citizens Advice organisation to be tied into a legal and financial relationship with the abusers is catastrophic for CA’s integrity and for people who need defending from the DWP, and for open democratic oversight of government policies.

“It’s a bribe to stay silent.”

Disabled activists raised serious concerns last October about whether the DWP funding would put the independence of CA and CAS at risk, with Watts saying CA had “sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence”.

Just hours after the funding was announced, CA had added to those concerns when it refused to criticise DWP at a party conference fringe event over four deaths that had been linked to universal credit, with the charity’s comments about the UC roll-out appearing to contrast with much stronger criticisms from fellow panellists.

This week, CA confirmed that the agreement with DWP included the “disrepute” clause, but said that all of its “public advocacy work” was “based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’” and so the clause “does not affect Citizens Advice’s ability to publicly criticise DWP”.

A CA spokesperson said the decision not to speak out at last year’s Tory party conference fringe event was not because of the “disrepute” clause.

She added: “We agreed to the clause in the agreement because it does not stop us from speaking out – all of our public advocacy work is based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’.”

Gillian Guy, CA’s chief executive, said in a statement: “There is nothing in the grant agreement that prevents us from raising our evidence publicly about the impact universal credit is having on the people who come to us for help.

“Since we signed the grant agreement and have been delivering the service, we’ve published significant pieces of policy work highlighting where improvements can be made to the universal credit system. We will continue to do so.

“Citizens Advice is, and always will be, totally independent from government.”

CAS has declined to confirm that its agreement contained a “disrepute” clause, and that it could potentially affect its public criticism of DWP, and it has also declined to explain why it accepted the clause in the agreement.

But Derek Mitchell, chief executive of CAS, said in a statement: “Citizens Advice Scotland has not, nor would we ever, sign an agreement which would prevent us speaking out on behalf of people we represent.

“Nothing in this grant agreement stops us from raising concerns about the impact universal credit is having on the people who turn to us for help.

“Universal credit has been one of our major public advocacy issues and we have highlighted concerns around the five week waiting time, the deductions from universal credit which result from advance loans and the digital first aspect negatively impacting claimants.

“We highlighted these concerns as a result of robust analysis of the evidence from our client base across Scotland, which is how we deliver advocacy.

“We will continue to use that evidence base to campaign for a better system for the people we help, and we will always do so independent of government.”

15 August 2019


EHRC proposals on new right to independent living: DPOs welcome draft plans

Leading disabled campaigners have welcomed draft proposals by the equality and human rights watchdog that would provide a new legal right to independent living for disabled people.

A legal right to independent living is one of the key demands of the disabled people’s movement, and if introduced through legislation should see the UK comply for the first time with article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

It warned that disabled people were “not able to choose where to live, with whom to live and how to live… [they] are still facing the risk of institutionalisation and not being able to live within the community.”

Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says there is “growing evidence of regression in relation to the right of disabled people to live independently as part of their communities”.

It has produced a working paper with six “key elements” that together could “incorporate the right to independent living into domestic law”.

These six elements include a new duty on public bodies like local councils to aim to meet the requirements of article 19; a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable “community or home living”; and a ban on building new “institutional” accommodation.

The commission has been working on its plans since at least November 2017 and is still “refining” its proposals.

As part of its development of the working paper, it has been consulting members of the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, ILSG’s chair, said: “The ILSG welcomes the paper, which we helped to develop over the past 18 months, in one of our many attempts to strengthen disabled people’s right to independent living.

“The EHRC and the ILSG will continue to collaborate on a number of ways to bring about a statutory right to independent living and [want] to work with anyone to this end.”

Dr Miro Griffiths, a researcher, adviser and campaigner on disability rights and a member of EHRC’s disability advisory committee (DAC), said: “As the EHRC has noted in recent years, there are widespread concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living is being eroded.”

He said the commission’s proposals would build on the UN committee’s recommendations and “go some way to protect independent living against the ever-changing political, economic, and social objectives of the state”.

But he said any changes would also have to ensure that guidance and interpretation of the new laws by policy-makers would be developed “in line with the ideas, values, and aspirations of the disabled people’s movement”.

He said he was supportive of the direction of the work so far, but that it was essential that the commission “continues to take guidance from the DAC, and others, as the proposals develop”.

Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives (SOL), who has been involved in the ILSG discussions, said it was “very disappointing that disabled people’s right to live in the community, a right that most people would not question, has to be protected by legal measures”.

She said SOL supported the EHRC proposals, but she warned that disabled people had found it “extremely difficult” to use other legislation, such as the Care Act, to defend their rights.

She said: “A key problem is that disabled people will often not have access to legal aid and not have sufficient money to hire the necessary legal support to challenge a local authority in court.”

She said any new laws would need to be accompanied by investment in disabled people’s organisations so they could advocate for disabled people relying on the new legislation, and support for disabled people so they have “the best possible chance of defending their right to choice and control on where and how they want to live”.

Meakin said: “Shaping Our Lives has been raising awareness of the crisis of user-led organisations and the many closures of local groups that provide a collective voice for disabled people and those from diverse communities.

“Without a strong network of local user-led organisations, disabled people may still experience too many barriers to independent living and have no means to defending it.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of SOL, said there also needed to be more attention paid in the proposals to the diversity of disabled people, particularly mental health survivors.

He said: “Given that more and more survivors are being especially penalised by welfare reform and coming under the control and compulsory provisions of mental health legislation, it would be good if more attention could be paid to this highly problematic and contentious area.

“This especially given that we know that this discriminates particularly against some black and minority ethnic groups.”

He suggested a wider consultation by EHRC with disabled people and their organisations, including SOL.

Sue Bott, head of policy and research for Disability Rights UK, said: “Ideally we would like to see the rights enshrined in the UNCRPD brought into domestic legislation but failing that, the measures put forward by the EHRC would go a long way towards realising our right to independent living.”

She said the proposals “would pretty much do it in term of a right to independent living, but the wording in UNCRPD article 19 is more explicit in the scope of what we need.

“As we have seen with the public sector equality duty, there is always a doubt and room for interpretation in a public sector duty.”

And she added: “It’s not just about resources – many community solutions are in fact cheaper.

“It’s about a change in attitudes and a recognition that disabled people should have the same rights as everyone else.”

*The Independent Living Strategy Group works to protect and promote disabled people’s rights to independent living in England. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

15 August 2019


EHRC proposals on new right to independent living: Six key elements

The equality and human rights watchdog has described six key elements that it believes would be needed to enable disabled people in the UK to have a legal right to independent living.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been examining whether there needs to be a legal right to independent living since at least November 2017.

Last year, a barrister commissioned by the watchdog concluded that there did need to be such a legal right.

EHRC has been developing a working paper describing how this could be achieved, although it is still “refining” its proposals.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

The committee has recommended that article 19 (on independent living) of the UN disability convention should be incorporated into UK domestic law.

In the working paper, EHRC says it agrees with this recommendation, but believes there is “no single way” to do this.

Instead, a “mixture of provisions with duties and rights of varying strength, levels and breadth is likely to be required”.

It believes there would be six “key elements” to how this could be done.

The first would be to create a new duty on certain public bodies, such as local authorities and NHS clinical commissioning groups, to act with the aim of meeting the requirements of article 19.

Secondly, there would be a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable community or home living, as long as this was in line with the disabled person’s wishes.

Disabled people should also be able to decline care (or elements of that support), “even if others may think those care elements are best for their well-being”, and they should have that wish respected.

There should also be a ban on the building of new “institutional” accommodation, although the working paper does not currently recommend that existing institutions should be shut down.

The fifth element is for local authorities, and central government, to carry out a regular assessment of unmet need for accommodation, support and care in the community, probably every two years.

The final “key element” would be to set up a new independent body to enforce the right to independent living and decide if local authorities have “discharged their obligations”.

The working paper also attempts to define institutional accommodation, suggesting that it is a setting where residents are isolated from the broader community; or live with people other than those they have chosen to live with; or where they do not have control over their day-to-day lives and the decisions which affect them; or where the interests of the organisation itself “tend to take precedence over the residents’ individualised needs or wishes”.

Although the working paper has not yet been published on the commission’s website, it was submitted quietly in April as evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, for its ongoing inquiry into the inappropriate detention of young autistic people and young people with learning difficulties.

Leading figures in the independent living movement have given the proposals a generally positive welcome (see separate story), while some of them have been working with the commission on its proposals.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The evidence shows that the rights of disabled and older people to live in their communities are at risk.

“Disabled people often feel like second-class citizens, and many are sadly faced with little choice but to move into institutions. They are often left feeling ostracised.

“We need a transformative solution that reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that everyone can live as part of their community where no one is forced out of the place they call home.

“We are confident that our solution will protect the right of many more people to live in their communities and we would welcome a national conversation to take our proposal forward.”

15 August 2019


Mystery over sharp drop in disabled people’s unemployment rate

Striking – but unexplained – new official figures show there has been a large fall over the last year in the proportion of disabled people who are unemployed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the percentage of disabled people counted as unemployed dropped to 7.3 per cent of those who were economically active (those seeking employment and available to start work) in April-June 2019.

This compares with an unemployment rate of 8.8 per cent during the same time period in 2018, and a rate that was as high as 13.5 per cent in 2013.

The proportion of those economically inactive (not available for work) fell slightly over the same period, from 44.4 per cent of working-age disabled people to 43.3 per cent.

It means there has been a fall of about 17 per cent in the unemployment rate among economically-active disabled people in just a year, while the unemployment rate for non-disabled people actually rose slightly from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent over the same period.

The figures (see table A08) are likely to raise questions about the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled people, and whether the fall could be linked in some way to the introduction of the much-criticised universal credit benefit system.

There will also be questions over whether the fall was at least partly due to increasing numbers of disabled people being forced into self-employment and part-time jobs (of at least one hour a week), or government training and jobs programmes. ONS includes all three in its measure of “employment”.

Figures secured from ONS last year by Inclusion London showed that nearly half of the increase in disability employment in the previous four years – between 2013-14 and 2017-18 – had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs of as little as one hour a week.

Mike Smith, a former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now chief executive of the east London disabled people’s organisation Real, said: “I don’t believe the employment environment has suddenly become more welcoming.

“I suspect some employers are getting better, but it might also be because people on the periphery of struggling to work are struggling even more to survive on benefits, and so have been pushed into work.

“What the stats don’t tell you is anything about the quality of the work, the wage levels, the hours of work, the job security, etcetera.”

There was also a call for research into the cause of the fall by Manchester-based Breakthrough UK, a disabled people’s organisation which provides employment support for disabled people.

Peter Jackson, Breakthrough UK’s deputy chief executive, said the figures needed “more scrutiny” and research to identify what had caused the fall in the unemployment rate, including whether the rollout of the government’s universal credit benefits system was playing a role.

He said: “Somebody needs to drill down into that data to get a better understanding of the impact of the very diverse range of factors involved.”

He added: “We have not seen any significant difference in terms of the employment market and the experiences of our clients on our employment programmes.

“Our experience in working with disabled people who we are supporting to secure employment in the open jobs market has not changed. It is still very challenging.

“People are generally experiencing the same types of barriers.”

He said there had been increasing contact from employers who have signed up to the government’s Disability Confident employment programme.

He said: “It’s certainly got traction from employers.”

But he added: “Whether that gets translated into real outcomes impacting on their workforce is an entirely different matter.”

Jackson also compared the ONS figures with his own day-to-day experiences in Manchester.

He said: “If you walk the streets of Manchester on any given day, the level of deprivation and marginalisation is slapping you in the face.

“The number of homeless people sleeping in shop doorways – that is my barometer in terms of how well the economy is functioning.”

Asked to explain the striking fall in the unemployment rate, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The number of disabled people in employment is the highest on record, showing great progress towards making our workplaces more inclusive and ensuring those disabled people who want to work are given the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career.

“By encouraging employers to become Disability Confident and providing more funding than ever before for the Access to Work scheme we are removing barriers so that more businesses can reap the rewards of being inclusive and more disabled people can find and stay in work.

“Though welcome, the reasons for the improving disability employment rate are complex so it is impossible to put this down to one cause.”

15 August 2019


‘Anger and collective action’ secure ‘success’ for Peterloo access campaign

A grassroots campaign that “harnessed the anger, determination and collective action” of disabled people in Manchester has secured a council promise to ensure a new memorial to the victims of the Peterloo massacre is made “fully accessible”.

The council-funded memorial is currently completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though it was designed to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.

But following months of campaigning, and weekly vigils by disabled activists, Manchester City Council has now agreed make the monument “fully accessible”, ensuring that “everyone can reach the top”.

It has also agreed that no-one will speak from the inaccessible memorial during events tomorrow (Friday) that will mark the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

Instead, the council says the monument will be used as “the backdrop to the event rather than the centrepiece or any sort of platform for performance”, although disabled activists say they will go further and creatively “obscure the memorial from view” for at least part of the day.

The memorial was unveiled quietly earlier this week without a civic ceremony.

Some of the disabled campaigners who have protested over its discriminatory design were at the site again yesterday to inspect the memorial with artist Jeremy Deller, following a meeting with the council.

They say the council is now looking at two options: incorporating a ramp into the design – the solution favoured by disabled campaigners – or installing a platform-style chair lift, which appears to be the council’s favoured option.

Both options will be examined by the architects that have worked on the memorial with Deller.

The council originally insisted that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the inaccessible memorial, but later backed down in the face of the campaign.

Disabled campaigners are now hoping that a new, fully accessible version of the memorial will be completed in time for the 201st anniversary of the massacre, in August 2020.

A public consultation on designs for the new version of the memorial will begin soon, with the hope that it will be “meaningful, accessible and transparent”.

Dennis Queen, from Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said the decision to reveal the memorial with no ceremony or gathering was “a welcome sign of good faith from a local authority that really is suitably concerned about the whole scandal and will try to fix this error by retrofit”.

She said it was a shame the council had not taken seriously the early concerns that were raised by disabled people about the memorial.

She said: “A lesson must be learned here. Listen to disabled people.

“Disabled people have a strong, radical local movement which has fought hard for involvement in and consideration from our local authority.”

She said the campaign showed that disabled people would take action if they were excluded from local politics in Manchester.

Queen said: “Peterloo left a legacy of strong radical activism and that affected disabled people too.

“The Peterloo memorial will be a centre point for all local activism for, we hope, at least the next 200 years. We will join in. Invited or not.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said the campaign would only be viewed as a success if the council agreed to sign a joint statement confirming its commitment to consult fully on any access design solutions and providing a timetable for work to be completed in time for the 201st anniversary.

He said: “Obviously, GMCDP is proud to have been involved in such a powerful grassroots campaign that has harnessed the anger, determination, and collective action of disabled people.

“It is a campaign that has raised the profile of our exclusion, through our initial protest, weekly vigils, coverage in the media and subsequent constructive meetings with the council, architects and artist Jeremy Deller.

“Although disabled people had been telling the council that its plans for the memorial were flawed, since they were first unveiled last November, it is only really in the last three months that this campaign has really found its voice.

“Although we are reluctant to talk of ‘success’ just yet, a turning point obviously in the campaign came when the council bowed to pressure and announced they were committed to making the memorial ‘fully accessible’.”

But he said the campaign was “far from over”.

Hilton said: “Our aim is that by working with the artist Jeremy Deller, an elegant design solution will be found that not only provides full access to the memorial but also enhances what has already been built.

“The steps tell the story of those massacred on St Peter’s Fields 200 years ago.

“Perhaps [a ramp would] tell a different story, but fundamentally our struggle is the same, a fight for liberty and equality that disabled people are all too familiar with.”

The memorial is positioned near what was known in 1819 as St Peter’s Fields, the site of the massacre, and is outside the current Manchester Central Convention Centre, which in a few weeks will host the Conservative party’s annual conference.

A spokesperson for the city council said: “The council has acknowledged that the innovative and imaginative interpretation of the design brief, with a greater emphasis on interaction than originally envisaged for a public artwork, meant that not enough consideration was initially given to accessible design issues.

“We have listened to, and engaged with, the concerns of disability access campaigners who have raised this issue, and we are committed to making the monument fully accessible – so that everyone can reach the top.

“Details of a proposal for how this will be achieved are being finalised and will be announced in the next few days.

“Both the council and Jeremy Deller are determined that the solution will be of the highest design quality and make a positive contribution to the overall appearance of the memorial as well as its accessibility, and dialogue will continue.

“The memorial will be there in its current form in the short term – enabling it to form a backdrop to the 200th anniversary commemorations – with the modification taking place afterwards.”

Meanwhile, tomorrow’s events to mark the 200th anniversary will include three performances of From The Crowd, which will include eyewitness accounts of those present at Peterloo intertwined with the words of contemporary poets and protesters, including some of the disabled activists who campaigned to ensure an accessible memorial.

Disabled activists are set to “obscure the memorial from view creatively” during the three performances.

Between the three shows, the memorial will be visible for the public to explore.

Disabled campaigners have also issued an appeal for solidarity to other campaign groups not to use the inaccessible top of the memorial as a platform during future rallies over the next 12 months.

They have produced a large banner with a solidarity pledge that allies can sign during From The Crowd.

The pledge commits allies to rally at the bottom of the memorial with disabled people, until everyone can “rally at the top together”.

*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre

15 August 2019


Picnics – not work – are a health outcome, say activists

A new campaign aims to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work is an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.

The claim that stable employment is “an important outcome for recovery for people with a mental health problem” angered members of the mental health survivor movement after it appeared in January’s NHS Long Term Plan (pdf).

Now the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has launched a new campaign aimed at persuading the government to drop the claim from the document.

It marked the start of its campaign with a free picnic in Hyde Park yesterday (Wednesday), despite torrential rain, which it called Picnics Are A Health Outcome and which it hopes will also reinvigorate the mental health survivor community.

MHRN believes that the mental health system is now designed “to get people off benefits and to make sure people don’t take too long off work”, particularly through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

Disabled activists have been warning for several years of the government’s increasing emphasis on linking health and job outcomes.

When the government launched its work, health and disability strategy in December 2017, disabled campaigners criticised this “cruel” and “unacceptable” emphasis.

Among the strategy’s plans were to more than double the number of employment advisers sent in to work within IAPT services, which provide treatment for people with anxiety and depression.

The strategy also revealed that the government was running trials to test different ways of delivering “joined up health and work support” in settings such as GP surgeries.

Now MHRN has launched a campaign to fight back at the increasing emphasis on the idea of work as a mental health outcome.

Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “We have nothing against work; we are all for good employment.

“But we believe that should not be the goal for mental health services. They should be helping people to relieve people of their mental distress.

“When people go to see a therapist now, they know that the therapist has an ulterior motive.”

This focus on employment is combined with a strong target-driven culture, she said, leading to people with severe and enduring mental health problems being unable to secure specialist mental health treatment because they are unable to return to work.

MHRN believes that this “ulterior motive” of therapists destroys the relationship of trust between service-user and service-provider.

McKenna said: “The whole back-to-work thing has completely destroyed mental health services.”

The treatment options are either cognitive behavioural therapy, through IAPT, or heavy doses of drugs, she said.

She added: “Our objection is that work is something that is separate from treatment for mental health.

“This is basically denying people proper treatment for mental health. All they are getting is behavioural changes to force them temporarily into work.”

McKenna said MHRN also believed that it was time to “start rebuilding our community”, after the closure of day centres and other cuts and reforms to mental health services that have left many members of the survivor community isolated.

She said: “The government have done everything in their power to smash the survivor community.

“The idea is that we are a community, and this [event] is a good starting point.”

15 August 2019


Tribunal decision ‘could deter companies from building more institutions’

A tribunal’s decision that a care provider should not be allowed to build a new residential home because it would look “institutional” and too much like a hospital has been welcomed by autistic rights campaigners and a leading self-advocacy organisation.

The tribunal ruled (pdf) in favour of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) decision to refuse an application for the new facility in Walsall on the site of a former NHS campus, submitted by Lifeways Community Care and backed by Walsall council.

CQC decided last year to block the development – of ensuite bedrooms and three self-contained flats for nine autistic people and people with learning difficulties, with some communal facilities – because it would produce a “campus”-type setting.

National guidance says campus-style or congregate services* are not in the best interests of people with learning difficulties and autistic people and do not promote their right to choice, independence and inclusion.

Lifeways already has six supported living flats on the site in Spring Lane, and CQC argued that the new service would be too big and would not promote integration with the local community.

CQC told the tribunal that the proposed service was “not small-scale, is not domestic in style and is clearly different to the houses in the local area” and had the “appearance of a care facility, not of typical housing”, with “some features of a campus.”

It added: “The outcomes of this service model have been demonstrated to be less good for people with learning disabilities than is a model based on people with learning disabilities living in the same sort of ordinary places as everyone else.”

But the development was supported by Walsall council, whose lead commissioner Ian Staples told the tribunal that he was “under pressure to get people out of hospital”.

He accepted that he was taking “a professional risk by supporting something that doesn’t toe the line”.

Staples told the tribunal: “I accept [it] is bigger than six beds and there is a risk.

“Ideally we would look at six, but I had 12 to 15 people looking for places and I didn’t have other sites available, so I made an informed decision and looked at the risks.”

But the health, education and social care first-tier tribunal unanimously decided that it was “obvious the proposed care home had an institutional look to it and clearly had characteristics of a campus style setting which stood out and was apart from the surrounding neighbourhood”, and that it was “completely inappropriate”.

The tribunal also said the development would create “unacceptable and serious risks to service users in the provision of care”.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, welcomed the tribunal ruling.

She said: “Autistic advocates and allies have been campaigning for decades to stop the segregation of autistic and learning disabled people away from their larger communities.

“It is disheartening to see that these sorts of institutions are still in operation in some places and that care companies still attempt to open them because they are more profitable.

“However, we at Autistic UK anticipate that the CQC’s firm stance on denying applications for these places will deter companies from attempting to build them in the first place.

“Isolating people from their communities is inhumane treatment and violates our right to live full and happy lives, whatever level of support any individual requires.

“Living in our larger communities is the first and critical step to being accepted and fully included.”

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First (Self Advocacy), also welcomed the CQC stance and the tribunal’s “important decision”.

He said: “Institutions have no place in independent living in the 21st century.

“These kinds of institutions prevent access to living, choice, control and independence and this gives a strong message to care providers about what is not acceptable.

“It is these kinds of high-profile decisions that help to put the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice.

“It says that being locked up and excluded from society is not supported by the CQC.

“Now what we need, moving forward, is to see commissioners and local authority decision makers getting on board with this approach to meeting the care and support needs of people with learning difficulties.”

CQC said it was an “important judgement” because it “further clarifies what is an acceptable care setting”.

Lifeways confirmed that it would not appeal the tribunal’s decision.

A Lifeways spokesperson refused to say if it would stop building such settings for disabled people, and why it attempted to open such a service when it would breach both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and national guidance.

But he said in a statement: “Lifeways are disappointed by the tribunal decision, as we felt strongly that the homes we are providing are of a high standard, meet the needs of local people, and also meet the principles of Registering the Right Support [the CQC guidance], principles that we support.

“The homes were developed in close collaboration with the local authority, who are clear that they meet the needs of the people in the borough.

“We will continue to work with both commissioners and the CQC to ensure that future developments are of a high quality and meet the needs of the people we support.”

A Walsall council spokesperson said: “After being fully engaged by Lifeways in the development of their plans, Walsall council did not consider the application to be for an ‘institutional-type’ setting and therefore not contrary to national guidance.”

Cllr Rose Martin, the council’s portfolio holder for adult social care, added: “Walsall council is fully committed to developing alternatives to institutional settings and promoting independent living.

“Walsall currently has over 84 per cent of adults with learning disabilities in receipt of a care package living with family or in their own homes, which is well above the national average.

“The application by Lifeways was in response to local need, a nine bed registration presented as two three bed bungalows and three flats with some communal areas.

“For some individuals, on their journey to their own accommodation, a period of living with others can be beneficial and taken in a local context is reasonable and in line with the Care Act requirement of providing choice and a range of provision.”

*CQC guidance (pdf) defines campuses as “group homes clustered together on the same site and usually sharing staff and some facilities”, and congregate settings as “separate from communities and without access to the options, choices, dignity and independence that most people take for granted in their lives”

15 August 2019


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